“One elderly woman was left alone in the dark for hours unable to find food or drink. Another was left without a walking frame, leaving her unable to get to the bathroom, while one man was not given vital diabetes medication… …One unnamed daughter reported: “They missed a day just after Christmas. They incorrectly entered into their database the days we didn’t need care. I covered but mum didn’t contact me until early evening, by which time she needed a lot of cleaning up. You wonder about the elderly with no relatives.”
This depressing article in the Guardian should be a wake up call to remind us of the critical importance of effective communication for seniors but why SMS?
Let’s first reflect on some excuses we’ve heard isolated, disabled and senior patients use to justify delaying or avoiding making a call for help:
> I don’t want to cause any bother
> I’ve put up with worse before
> They’re busy at work right now, I’ll wait till later when they come off shift
> They’re probably driving. It would be dangerous for them to be answering the phone
> The news is on, they’re probably watching that
> If I keep pestering these people they might not help me anymore
> I’m sore and it’s too much trouble to get up and go to the phone
So why is being able to send a SMS going to make a damned bit of difference?
> It’s asynchronous. So you can send that message when you like but the recipient has flexibility and doesn’t have to stop what they’re doing.
> It’s very low cost (buy them a big bundle and tell them you’re paying for them whether they use them or not)
> It’s fun and can help connect generations (what grandson is going to be seen talking to his granny when he’s out with his friends? Texting away to a secret admirer on the other hand…)
> It’s sometimes easier to say things in a text. Imagine the opportunity SMS will give you in ten years time? Instead of being the “one unnamed daughter” in the story above you’ll be saved that nightmare because you’ll get a SMS 6 months before saying “The new carer is a jerk. Where are you finding these people?”.
But they aren’t interested – how do I make them?
> First up you don’t make a generation that grew up without central heating do anything. Think about showing them the fun side and let them see the benefits. Be prepared to work hard on this, sure there will be UI advances but it’s unlikely that someone of advancing years is going to find the concept of adopting a new technology any easier in the future.
> The first message: this is your big opportunity. Take your nerd hat off and don’t even think of writing the word TEST. You’re not at work! Think of the most sensitive caring thing you could possibly say to your mother and send that to her. Let her open it for herself. “Look mum that’s your first ever text message. That’ll be in your phone with you all the time, see?”
> Concerns about the expense: A good plan I’ve seen work is to assure them that you have a receipt for the device and can bring it back if they’re not 100% happy with it. Tesco’s are a great place to buy a phone like this because not only do they have a good refund/exchange policy but they’ll also chuck in some ClubCard points (for those outside UK in my experience it’s rare to find a senior in the UK who isn’t already somehow collecting these)
> Spend a bit of money and get them a nice new device. I personally have had great results with the Doro PhoneEasy 615 with Camera, SOS & shortcut key buttons, high contrast screen/buttons, remote programmable, high DB ringer, Hearing Aid compatible, etc, etc.
> Personalise it with a wrap (ask your mum first what picture she’d like to carry with her all the time). You can get wraps done in most independent high street mobile repair shops. Remember the more imaginative and thoughtful you can be the better.
> Add a screen saver (this is where a cameraphone is really helpful – put your ego to one side for 5 seconds and snap a favorite picture from the bedside/wall instead).
> Got a polyphonic ringtone, Radio or MP3 functionality? Be sure to set it up with their favourite tune, stations and albums.
> Set up the SMS templates and populate the address book and shortcut keys. Setting the SOS button (or the 1 key on a conventional mobile) so that with one press it sends a “give me a call when you get the chance” to their closest carer, will encourage use especially if you also tell them this person has unlimited calls so it’s free for them to call them back.
If you want to really make an effort why not also place a mobile connected smoke alarm in their home or set up one of these fall/temperature/intruder/power failure monitors in their hall.
Got any other suggestions? As always please feel welcome to add them in the comments and I’ll update/add to the lists.